Hiking Terms: An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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Hiking is a great way to explore nature, but it can be intimidating for beginners due to the jargon used in the hiking community. In this article, we will explain the most common hiking terms so that you can feel confident and prepared on your next hiking trip.

Hiking Terminology


A trailhead is the starting point of a hiking trail. It is usually marked with a sign and may have a parking lot, restrooms, and other amenities.


The summit is the highest point of a mountain or hill. Hikers often set the goal of reaching the summit as a challenge.

Trail Marker

A trail marker is a sign or symbol that guides hikers along a trail. It may be a painted arrow on a tree or a signpost.


Switchbacks are zigzagging sections of a trail that help hikers ascend or descend steep terrain. They are designed to make the climb less steep and more manageable.


Scrambling is a hiking technique that involves using hands and feet to climb up or down steep rocks or boulders.

Rock Cairn

A rock cairn is a stack of rocks used as a trail marker or to mark the way to a specific location. They are often used in areas where there are no other markers.


A saddle is a low point between two peaks or ridges. It is often used as a resting spot for hikers.


Bushwhacking is hiking through dense vegetation without a trail. It can be challenging and slow-going, but it allows hikers to explore areas off the beaten path.

Water Source

A water source is a place where hikers can get fresh water, such as a stream or spring. It is important to purify the water before drinking it.

Base Layer

A base layer is the first layer of clothing worn by hikers. It is designed to wick away moisture and keep the hiker dry.


A daypack is a small backpack used for day hikes. It should be lightweight and comfortable to carry.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are hiking poles that help hikers maintain balance and reduce strain on the legs and knees. They are especially helpful when hiking on steep terrain.

Bear Canister

A bear canister is a container used to store food and scented items when hiking in bear country. It helps to keep bears from getting to the food.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a set of principles designed to minimize the impact of hikers on the environment. It includes practices such as packing out all trash and minimizing campfire impact.


Hiking can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it is important to understand the terminology used in the hiking community. By learning these common hiking terms, you can feel more confident and prepared on your next hiking trip.

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